Rebecca Walker


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barack Obama's Speech on Race - New York Times

Barack Obama's Speech on Race - New York Times

I read this before turning on the news, in order to experience it for myself. It mirrors everything I have been making speeches on for the last fifteen years: the need to end divisiveness, to move toward openness, to cultivate the resource of empathy. To truly change rather than follow the same tired back and forth of battling oppressions.

I think I won't turn on the news today. I will just sit with Barack's hopes and dreams, and refuse to listen to a political machine laying in wait to slice them to pieces.

Hope you are all thriving.

Peace and love forever,

PS The gray words are always links--so the speech is accessible from the top of the page.

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Anonymous kimberly said...

Hi Rebecca- I have been reading your blog excerpts for many months now as they have been forwarded to me by my sister, today i feel compelled to respond to your post and this "idyllic" fog that you seem to live in on all matters of race and politics. While I respect what i believe is the "intent" of both your perspective and Barack on the whole race and politics discussion I feel that i must just shake my head in resignation that there is an element here to this whole "black/race" discussion that you just don't get. Perhaps that is in part due to your mixed race heritage and what I perceive is often an internal struggle to meld the two worlds together. Whatever...I do think to simply attempt to place a bandaid on the many issues of race and gender that still perplex our nation is both naive and irresponsible and to state in your words "to cultivate a resource of empathy" is just plain stupidity!


Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

This post has been removed by the author.

Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

Wow! What a divisive comment. I'd love to post on some of your thoughts about the election. Please forward your blog address so that I may understand more deeply your point of view and engage you openly.

Blogger JenSita said...


I am so sorry that this "idyllic fog" that you, Barack and myself, live in has been pierced by such a comment on the day of such a beautiful, historic speech. It seems that this person did not truly listen to this speech either as she would have heard him say that we cannot continue on without addresses a very real anger that exists in our country. I have found it difficult in the past weeks to maintain this "fog" which I cherish so deeply because without it, I sense I would feel purposeless. So please know that there are many of us out here who have been touched and moved by your books, speeches and ideals. There are many of us working with you to be able to reach this ideal place because without a vision of what it can be, we will be forever remain, as Barack so intuitively spoke, static.

Anonymous nicole said...

yes, Rebecca, I wish I had thought to not listen to the news after seeing the speech also..

also, i am surprised by the comment above - I think your comments and writings on race issues, as well as Barack's, have not tried to place a band aid on the issues, but just the opposite. To not address the race issue, that would have been placing a band aid on it, but Barack Obama chose to speak out and highlight the issues of race as something that this country must address. But, I also realize that some people want to live with their hatred and not engage in attempts to address any of the issues or hear the other side. That is the true "fog."

Anonymous kimberly said...

Let me be clear in my response above by first stating that it was not meant in any way to be "divisive" as was suggested. But sadly it seems that any African American who speaks from a place of frustration and outrage of the racial injustices that still perplexes our society is branded with the "bad negro" label. What i perceive in many of your posts Rebecca (on many sites) is an "uncomfortability" with your blackness. Maybe i am mistaken, but i since conflict there and at times it seems to present itself in this focus on this "color-blind" worldview that is sometimes espoused in your writings (as well as I detect this in some of Barack's speeches).

Now in fact I listened to Barack's speech in apt concentration this morning and found it to be well-crafted. What in fact bothers me about Barack is his classification of black frustration as baggage. Well i admit my baggage i carry as a black woman living in this society in matters of race, and if some would like to classify it as anger-- so be it. But hatred--never that.

Anonymous Kimberly Brill said...

Rebecca, this Kimberly is sending you love!! =) We are so lucky to be witness to such an amazing historical speech!! Thank you for your blog as always I love to read what you are thinking. Peace and love. ~ Kimberly Brill

Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

"Kimberly": to define comfort with one's blackness as being without hope for racial healing is, for lack of a better word, suicidal.

Blogger danielle said...

Why and when did it become divisive to disagree? Can you challenge a candidate you admire, or a writer whose work inspires you, and not be villified?

In Obama's speech, he talked alot about "cultivating empathy," but he also discussed the importance of acknowledging the very real injustice upon which this country was built. I find it ironic that in the same space that people talk about the resource of empathy, they also enthusiastically dismiss someone who admits to having racial baggage. Isn't that what prompted the speech in the first place??

Anonymous Mignon said...

Hey, all,
Man, I hate to see this...because it seems to miss the point. First of all, calling anyone, or their point of view, "stupid," is inflammatory, Kimberly. (The first Kimberly, not the second one - smile)And unnecessary. While I don't agree with everything Rebecca Walker says, one thing I can't ever say is that she doesn't have the perspective of the "black/race" discussion. Having read her books as well as her articles (both by and about her), as well as her blogs, she seems to have a handle (an uncomfortable one, it's true) on both sides of the issue. The fact that she seems to get slammed by white folks as well as black should give us all a clue. And if you can't get with that, how about just getting with the fact that everyone has their truth? You wouldn't want to be knocked for yours, would you?

Secondly, I was just writing on another site about how it felt like anyone who has anything critical to say about Obama gets slammed. Now it seems apparent to me that people feel the same way about Clinton, in that they get attacked for criticizing her. Really, could we quit it? We have a hell of a candidate to beat in the fall.

Thirdly, what bothers me is while I might know Obama (through his books and speeches), he still is not as known a quantity in the U.S. as we would like to believe. And the Republican Party would love to market that -- get a jump on it, so to speak. It does surprise me that this campaign would think that their message is just "known," to the extent to which Obama would not be questioned on his pastor, especially when Fox News has been going at it for a year. It is to be remembered that, before two years ago, most of America (with the exception of Illinois and those of us who follow black politics) really didn't know who Obama was. And Americans, as a whole are skeptics, yes? We love to see people fall, just to see them rise again. It's evident in our public figures, our heroes, who we choose to watch and support on television. Why would this be a surprise when the number one story last year was Britney Spears?

So, again, why would the Obama campaign not be on the lookout for easy gets like this? Optimism and idealism is wonderful, but the man is running for President of the United States. His MTV generation is watching Paris Hilton and "American Idol" for entertainment. Why would they think this wouldn't be a story?

Mistakes of this magnitude do scare me, as a Democrat, as a woman of color who is hoping this might happen for us globally, and as a staunch Democratic voter. He's frustrated me with this.

This was easy. He especially can't make these sorts of mistakes -- we have to be better, we have to do better, because we're always coming from a position that can and will be criticized in this country. For us to forget that means that we'll lose. Of COURSE there's a double standard -- it's how we handle it that matters.

This was handled poorly, because regardless of how wonderful the speech was, now Obama becomes a candidate concerned with racial issues -- read "Liberal." Traditionally, do Repubs ever really cross the aisle and vote for a liberal candidate? And once you bring up race, it becomes about him being liberal; it's a wrong assessment, but it doesn't mean that people won't see him that way.
Moreover, the real issue is, with the economy being what it is, and us being in a war and another one on the brink, are white voters (the ethnic white voter -- man, I love that term!)going to want to talk about race with this election? Or are they probably going to think that this is the wrong time and place for that discussion? Yes, it'll be a rationalization (it has been my experience that it's primarily black people, brown people, and liberal whites who will discuss race, anytime, anywhere), but that's neither here nor there -- is this really something that can be considered a smart move, especially when it could have been dealt with a year ago, or longer? And, unfortunately, he waffled about what he knew and when he knew it -- for a man who doesn't want to be a "typical politician," he gave us a very good taste of it this past week.

Fourthly, I really hope that everyone votes. We're all engaged -- regardless of who the nominee is, hopefully we will continue to be so?

Blogger Rebecca Walker said...

Well good morning everybody! Glad to see you are all alive and kicking. Still choosing not to turn on the tv, but it's kind of cool to hear the gamut on the blog.

A couple of thoughts: We definitely don't all need to agree on everything, just that we want peace and will do whatever it takes to get there. That Obama appeals to people's highest aspirations and not their wounds is one of the aspects of his leadership I most admire. This is how Dr. King, and Malcolm in his later years also achieved some level of grace: by making integration a moral imperative that could be seen by both black and white.

The question of being called stupid really doesn't matter as much as my reaction to being called stupid. I can become enraged, or I can attempt to, again, keep my wound in check while connecting with a deeper imperative for connection and empathy. I understand Kimberly's frustration. I share it (just wrote about being afraid to get into a pool full of white people on my blog btw), and find myself negotiating it in different ways at different times.

The bottom line is can we talk about these issues without devolving into civil war? Can we be open enough to hear what others are feeling and thinking long enough to engage and acknowledge and yes, through that process, hopefully to move on to something better for all involved?

Okay! Gotta go get ready to talk at ASU. I hope everyone is having a fantastic day. My plan for the day is to not let Obamania spin me out! I'll let you know how it goes.

PS Kimberly, the sent post you send last night got lost somewhere between when I pushed publish and the actual site. Resend and I will try again.

Blogger LiteraryAquarian said...

Unfortunately I did not have a chance to see the speech but I would like to respond to Kimberlys comment. I resent the notion that because someone is not mono-racial, we are incapable of embracing all sides of our identity. I find it humorous how some people are quick to see someone as "all Black"(when the individual personally identifies as mixed-race) and "not Black enough", when the issue comes up politically or otherwise. Isn't that division in and of itself? I don't think Rebecca or any other multi-racial/bi-racial person lives in a "fog" as you say, but please realize that as a person of mixed-race it isn't a fog that we live in, but rather our reality that Black and White can get along and love, and procreate. For some of us, atleast within our families, racial harmony IS and has been for awhile, A REALITY. How are we ever going to begin healing when we continue to create sentiment that creates an "us", and "them" mentality? A "Black" and a "not ALL Black" mentality?
I am not tragic, but rather those around me that believe there is tragedy in my existence.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well... I've just read all of the previous blogs and it's hard for me to decide where to start!
FIRST -Rebecca your initial point was Excellent! I too only read the transcript and chose not to listen to the "spin". It was important to listen to my heart and my instincts rather than the "motives" (to put it nicely) of others. What I found in each phrase of his speech was sheer profound Brilliance! It is the first time in my life that I witnessed all of America have such concern about what an African-American had to say about the subject of Race and Religion. CNN reported that more people than ever tuned in and I know they did so w/intensity. I pray that the media (and others) stop using Rev. Wright (and others) as a wedge against Sen. Obama's integrity. I notice they have not focused on the support that has been given to Rev. Farwell by many Republicans including McCain. Why aren't Rev. Farwell's speeches against Blacks, Jews, Immigrants, Homosexuals, etc. not repeated all over the internet? It's a shame what our country tend to tolerate!

Now, I'm on to Kimberly... I'm honestly not sure if I understood your points in your first comment/blog. I'm sorry that I missed a critical connection -but what was it exactly did you "shake your head in resignation" about or what is it that they "just don't get"? I'm eager to learn your full prespective, because honestly I'm appauled by your term "stupidity".

Now, back to Sen. Obama... I am so proud of his words and his demeanor while speaking them. I watched his speech much later that night and loved how calm and in control he appeared -especially considering the nature of the topic. It taught me alot about him and I'm inspired even more than ever that he is the best candidate to become the President of "United" States of America!

Rebecca, stay the course and remain focused on what comes from your heart -always!


Anonymous Chris said...

Ok, first I just want to say how amazing Rebecca Walker's speech was at ASU tonight. Believe me, really think about open-mindedness, and ideas will come forth. What is funny is that most people think they are open-minded when they really are not. Just think about your personal life and how open minded you are towards other people. Schools and American History have put images in the minds of our children that depict groups of people a certain way. If this were not true, then how come we still have white privilege and view anyone but white as inferior? Really, think about it and be open.

Obama's speech was amazing and despite how you may view his world view and struggle, it still speaks to the injustices this country has done. (I know, I am not necessarily being open-minded here) Now, I am by no means blaming everyone today for the past but we cannot omit the fact that specific events, ideas, and theories have helped shape our society today. We can no longer ignore social issues and attempt to pawn them off on ethnic groups. Obama is right, the reason people cannot advance and gain opportunity is not because of Blacks, Whites, Latinos or Asians but because the elite are controlling simple facets of our economy by outsourcing to different countries which costs less. Now, that may be a smart business and economic move, yes, but it causes social tension and scapegoats are made.

Obama may have appeared to simply make a political move on his part so that he can gain popularity. I personally believe this is false to believe and here is why. Obama attempts to point the finger at the elite for causing social strife. Most scholars are attack by the elite for making a bold statement, (I am sure he is being ridiculed too, but he has a power advantage whereas most scholars do not which can threaten some people) Every class I have taken has said the same thing and there is a trend. The elite control the market and economy. Take slavery for example. Eric Williams, in Capitalism and Slavery, said that slavery was for economic gain and that Slavery was not the result of racism but racism was the result of slavery. In other words, the elite used slavery to justify racism. Break that down and think about how and why slavery existed in the Americas, the Roman Empire, England, Ancient Greece, etc. It was for economic gain even in times of war. Yes, I know I am going off on tangents but really think about the origins of racism. We already know it's a social construction but no one wants to admit this. This is what Obama is trying to talk about and help people let go of. This is what Obama means to de-construct and dissolve from our society. These are roots of racism. It's all embodied in his speech, just read through the lines.

Now, on Rebecca Walker's original posting. Think about how people argue today. Someone always has to have the last word and they must be correct. Being open-minded is open to ideas of difference and considering many aspects of an argument. At times things may seem to overshadow ideas and fog over beliefs or anxieties towards others. That should not be a justification for labeling open-mindedness as "idyllic" or simply good "intentions". I think that by not having an idea about what a "perfect" world could be over our own realities causes more oppression. If we just think that problems will never change, then we are setting our own demise. Rebecca Walker talked about that today in her speech at ASU. These are not exact quotes but she gets the credit for what I learned today. I was there and this is how I interpreted the open-mindedness through various quotes and metaphors. If I am wrong, please correct me.

I really enjoyed Obama and Rebecca's speeches. Through on different topics, I felt like I could connect because of my knowledge and how I feel about racism in this country. I love being American but also know we have our flaws like anybody else.
Thanks for reading and thank you Rebecca Walker for an amazing speech tonight!


Anonymous lisahazen said...

Listening to Barack's speech made me feel like I was living history. How rare and uncommon to unapologetically acknowledge the complexity of the issue on both sides. To not exploit an incident for political gain. To remain loyal to his pastor and his white grandmother, but strongly disagree with their words. To calmly and firmly suggest that this is the time to break an ugly cycle and move together to a better place.

It was such a beautiful, inspiring speech. (And what a contrast to Bush's bullshit speech on the fifth anniversary of Iraq.) How I hope we will be hearing more of Barack's wonderful words spoken from behind the president's podium come January.


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